The Gospel Matters

Let me begin with an affirmation.  The Gospel Matters.  Some will immediately accuse me of being antagonistic.  After all, Stan Wischnowski ran a headline that read “Buildings Matter” and he found himself without a job.[1] But I am not an antagonist.  I am a minister of the Gospel.  Others will ask, “What good is the gospel?  Christians founded this country and held slaves.  The Gospel does not matter.”  Slaves like Frederick Douglass may have been tempted to think the same thing.  Douglass, when a slave to Thomas Auld was contracted to work for a year for Edward Covey who was a terrible man.  After one beating Douglass ran home to Auld who sent him back to Covey.  He returned on a Sunday and was greeted “amiably and cordially.”[2] However, with Monday came mountain of punishment.

But Douglass understood something that many today do not understand.  He said in an appendix to his Narrative, “Between the Christianity of this land and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference...”[3] In fact, Douglass went on to say, “I love the pure, peaceable, and impartial Christianity of Christ.”[4] To Douglass, the Gospel Mattered.  And there was no fooling Douglass.  He understood when the Gospel mattered and when it didn’t, which is why he hated “the corrupt, slave-holding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of this land.”[5]  Who can blame him?

According to Christopher Lebron, Douglass used shame “to initiate in the moral imagination of his audience members the idea of national redemption through civic virtue.”[6] This is a powerful thread that runs throughout Lebron’s work.  Ida Wells, Langston Hughes and activists of today use shame as the proper response of the person who lives inconsistently with their professed principles.[7] What is more, Douglass discovered that it worked!  However, there is something Lebron does not emphasize…and it matters.

Ten years after Douglass’s escape from slavery he publicly wrote his old slave master Thomas Auld. He catalogued abuses and family members still enslaved including a grandmother who was old and ailing. Douglass publicly shamed Auld. He held the man morally accountable and was calling the man’s conscience to witness against him.  But Douglass was doing more than calling Auld to a civic virtue becoming of a democratic citizen.  Just listen to Douglass,

The responsibility which you have assumed in this regard is truly awful – and how you could stagger under it these many years is truly marvelous. Your mind must have become darkened, your heart hardened, your conscience seared and petrified, or you would have long since thrown off the accursed load and sought relief at the hand of a sin forgiving God.”

Did you hear that?  A sin forgiving God.  Douglass is not calling for a man to act virtuously.  He is calling a man to repent for sin! 

As I read Lebron’s intellectual history of Black Lives Matter I noted many Biblical themes. There are things like shame, sacrifice, forgiveness and love to name some important appearances.  However, the closest Lebron comes to the Christian love we find expressed in Douglass is love in a “Christian inspired secular sense” and that secular sense means love without mention of Christ who is the only propitiation and expiation for the sins of Thomas Auld and those like him. The gospel matters.

The Gospel Matters because without it no one is saved…neither Thomas Auld nor Frederick Douglass because all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.[8]  All need the sin forgiving God.

But what does this mean for today?  It means, the Gospel Matters.  What is more, if the pure, peaceable, and impartial Christianity of Christ matters then we will endeavor to proclaim it.  And those who profess to believe it must live it.  And those who live it must declare that all lives matter, not as a “disingenuous retort” but as a clear implication of the Gospel.[9]

In my last article, I urged black and white ministers to reach out and pray with one another and that I have done and will continue to do.  However, in this article, I am urging ministers and Christians alike to once again understand how much the Gospel Matters in our present circumstances and to proclaim it without reservation from the pulpit and across the kitchen table.  The Gospel Matters because lives matter.

Jeffrey A Stivason (Ph.D. Westminster Theological Seminary) is pastor of Grace Reformed Presbyterian Church in Gibsonia, PA.  He is Professor-elect of New Testament Studies at the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh, PA. Jeff is also an online instructor for Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, PA. He is the author of From Inscrutability to Concursus (P&R), he has contributed to The Jonathan Edwards Encyclopedia (Eerdmans) and has published academic articles and book reviews in various journals. Jeff is the Senior Editor of Place for Truth (placefortruth.org) an online magazine for the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals.


[2] Christopher J. Lebron, The Making of Black Lives Matter: A Brief History of an Idea (Oxford University Press, 2017), 9.

[3] Frederick Douglass, Narrative (Barnes & Nobel, NY: 2003), 121.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Lebron, 13.

[7] Ibid., cf. 23, 53, 132.

[8] Romans 3:23.

[9] Lebron, 81.